Johnson (History/Miami Univ.; The Dreyfus Affair: Honor and Politics in the Belle Époque, 1999) analyzes how, when, where and by whom the Gettysburg Address was written.
The author ably debunks the myth of Lincoln scribbling a few words on the back of a yellow envelope on the train to the Pennsylvania cemetery dedication. “It seemed odd that the origins and writing of a speech that had become such an important part of American identity should be surrounded by so many questions,” he writes. Lincoln scholars and Civil War buffs will be delighted with Johnson’s meticulous investigation of the few days Lincoln had to prepare a “few appropriate remarks” at the site of the battle that was the turning point of the Civil War. There is barely an hour for which he doesn’t specify Lincoln’s location or to whom he spoke. There is no doubt that the president wrote the first draft of a two-page text in Washington, D.C. The second page disappeared the day before the dedication, and a pencil-written page took its place, forming the Nicolay (named after Lincoln’s private secretary, John George Nicolay) or delivery text copy. Lincoln went away to revise his speech at least twice after his arrival in Gettysburg and also made revisions as he delivered the speech. The author carefully compares not only the five handwritten copies, but also the many post-delivery documents and revisions. Even Lincoln wrote out a revision, based on many of the iterations that were available. Focusing on involved persons, word changes, capitalization and even paragraph breaks, Johnson has exhausted every possible facet of this speech and the people who may have suggested words or phrases.
A well-written, thorough scrutiny of a landmark speech that illustrated Lincoln’s vision and clarified his future purposes.